The readers of Automobile Magazine might think that we editors get to drive Ferraris frequently, but that is not the case. True, I’ve been to Maranello more than once, and I’ve driven more than one Ferrari on Ferrari’s famous Fiorano test track. In fact, I attended the media launch for the 458 Italia back in November 2009 and stayed at a hotel that was across a roundabout from the Ferrari factory. [Here’s what I had to say back then] However, we have plenty of editors and staffers who have never been to Maranello, among them copy editor Rusty Blackwell, who solemnly informed me that, in his entire six-year tenure at Automobile Magazine, we’d never had a Ferrari in the office test fleet. Thankfully, Ferrari North America Public Relations Manager Matteo Sardi sent a 458 Italia test car our way for four brief but brilliant days in mid-July. We made the most of it because this was a Very Big Deal here at 120 E. Liberty Street.
West coast editor Jason Cammisa, who has spent more time driving various Ferraris in recent years than anyone else on staff, just so happened to be in town when the Ferrari arrived, and he started off the week by giving motor gopher and University of Michigan undergrad Rich Otto a hair-raising ride through the streets of Ann Arbor that young Mr. Otto will not soon forget. Miraculously, this power-sliding escapade through an office park escaped the attention of the Ann Arbor police.
For my part, I drove the 458 Italia briefly around Ann Arbor, principally to show it off to a few friends, among them my running buddy Jim Zamberlan, who likes all things Italian even though he owns two German cars. He was duly impressed by the way the Italia looked at his curb, by its succulent interior, and of course by the sound of the engine. It’s frustrating, though, to trundle through crowded city streets in a car like the Ferrari 458, which begs for the open road and the racetrack. So, a couple nights after the Ferrari arrived, I drove over to GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, with road test editor Chris Nelson. We joined associate editor Eric Tingwall, who had come over in the Ferrari.
Having already driven the 458 for a few laps at Fiorano, I was already aware that it’s a fine, fine track machine, but I forgot just how fine it is. It’s not just the power, which is massive. It’s not just the dual-clutch seven-speed transmission, which is one of the few paddle-shift gearboxes that I actually enjoy operating. It’s not just the tremendous carbon-ceramic brakes, and it’s not just the incredibly precise steering. Because, you know, there are lots of fancy sports cars and supercars that have many of these elements. But Ferrari brings all these attributes together with such finesse, and you really have to drive it on a track to expose its ultimate capabilities. Not that I was driving it anywhere near its ultimate limits, because I’m not that good a driver. The 458, though, will make you feel like a great driver whether you’re at 6/10ths, or 7/10ths, or 9/10ths. And if you have the balls and the skill to take it to 10/10ths, you’ll feel like a hero.
Now, I just need to drive the new McLaren MP4-12C and see if it makes me feel the same way.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
This was only my third time behind the wheel of a Ferrari, the last time being in April of 2005 when I drove a 612 Scaglietti for our test of twelve twelve-cylinder cars. Driving that Scaglietti, though, simply doesn’t compare with driving this 458 Italia. The sound it makes as you run up through the gears, the instant-on throttle, and the razor-sharp steering, all combine to make driving this Ferrari a truly unique experience.
We happened to have a friend visiting from Sweden on the evening I drove the Ferrari, and he was more than happy to go for a ride as we explored the almost deserted two-lanes that run through farm country in the southern reaches of Washtenaw County. (He drives a taxi in Stockholm, so he was happy to be a passenger for a change.) With the car in race mode, acceleration to 60 mph and beyond took mere seconds, and the sounds coming from the exhaust were heavenly. After we got back, my neighbor pulled up to get a closer look at the Ferrari, so of course I had to give him a ride, too. (Purely for unselfish reasons.)
I’ve been reading about this Ferrari for almost two years now, but there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel and experiencing it first-hand. Words can hardly do it justice. Suffice it to say that, even if it takes six years before I drive another Ferrari, I won’t be disappointed.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
So many things in life are over-hyped. Until I had my first time behind the wheel of a 458 Italia, I was afraid driving a Ferrari might be one of those experiences. Perhaps it helped that I first experienced a Ferrari on the 2.11-mile track at GingerMan. GingerMan isn’t the most challenging road course in the world, or even in this state, but I’ve turned hundreds of laps there over the past few years so it’s easy to jump into a new car and get to know the vehicle right away. I used my first lap to become familiar with the 458’s incredible carbon-ceramic brakes and try to forget the $310,000 sticker price.
I told myself I’d take it easy in the Ferrari, but that’s a relative term in a 562-hp supercar. Before I knew it I was topping 140 mph on the back straight and having the time of my life. With all of the advanced electronics on board the 458 Italia is as easy to drive as a Volkswagen GTI. The experience is totally different, but the results are the same: the car turns a novice driver into a star on the track. This will likely upset some enthusiasts who want to experience the crashing of a gated shifter entering and leaving each turn, but the fact is all the tech makes it much easier to prevent a real crash during those turns. Perhaps the experience of an old school Ferrari with a gated shifter and more finicky engine would be more visceral and rewarding, but the experience of a new Ferrari that will run hot laps all day long and never need more attention than adding fuel is amazing.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Y’all are gonna kill me, but if I had to describe the 458 in one word, it would be clinical. The 458 is cold, calculated, and precise — to the point of being a little charmless. Ferrari’s mission is laptimes and speed, speed, speed. Personally, I wish the company would focus on different things (like driver involvement and fun) rather than precision, but I can’t much fault this brilliant machine’s execution.
Well, a little. I’m still irked that Ferrari refuses to program “automatic” mode for full-throttle kick-down, but I guess you shouldn’t be driving a Ferrari in automatic mode anyway (which is why it shouldn’t even have that mode). Like other direct-injected Ferraris, the fuel cutoff is abrupt, so cruising at low-load conditions (and even 70 mph in seventh gear is low-load for this monster motor) takes effort to prevent bucking. The exhaust bypass valves work overtime in city driving, opening and closing constantly — I’d much prefer a driver-selectable override for “always open” or “always closed.” And there are just too many buttons on the steering wheel.
And while I’m kvetching, the steering is incredibly fast and unrivaled in its precision and immediacy. But it’s also completely numb and significantly overboosted. The sounds coming from the tailpipe are no longer music; they’re noise. Insane, maniacal, violent noise. Amazing? Yes. Beautiful? No.
The dual-clutch transmission is pretty good, as far as automatics go. But pulling a paddle in a Ferrari is no more special than pulling a paddle in a Honda Fit. If you ignore the speed, the beauty, and the Ferrari factor, and just pay attention to how the 458 drives, you’d have a hard time convincing me that a Porsche Boxster isn’t more fun.
But ignore the driver-car factor for a second, and concentrate on what Ferrari actually set out to achieve — performance — and the 458 is just absurdly amazingly mind-blowingly awesome. The brakes will rip your face off — if it somehow managed to stay attached during acceleration. Handling balance is unlike anything else on this planet — neutral neutral neutral. (For the record, the 458 will understeer at low speeds, but that’s easily fixed with bags of power oversteer.) There is no bushing compliance or wallow or anything — the 458 feels like a go-kart. Actually, it feels more like a go-kart than most go-karts do.
Except that the suspension copes even with Ann Arbor’s miserable roads. The seats aren’t cushy, but somehow are comfortable for hour-long trips. The leather and stitching are gorgeous. The steering wheel’s rim is perfection in your hands. Nothing revs like a flat-crank V-8. And nothing takes your breath away like a Ferrari. Forget what I said, it’s perfect.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
Base price (with destination): $227,725
Price as tested: $ 310,463
Dual-clutch 7-speed paddle-shifter transmission
Carbon-ceramic brakes w/high-performance ABS
Twin-wishbone front suspension, multilink rear suspension
Modular aluminum & alloy chassis
Power windows & locks
Options on this vehicle:
AFS system- $1944
Red brake calipers – $1378
Rear diffuser in carbon – $8105
Carbon fiber driver area – $7132
Colored safety belt – $890
Carbon fiber dashboard – $6808
Front suspension lifter – $4539
Front wing in carbon – $3404
Ferrari iPod – $907
‘Scuderia Ferrari’ S – $1587
Electronic mirror – $740
Radio/nav system – $3404
Rear parking sensors – $1297
Sport sill cover – $1135
Racing seats – $7781
20-in. forged wheels w/diamond finish – $7294
Leather headliner – $809
Low-profile antenna – $731
Rear shelf leather upholstery – $2577
All stitching in color – $462
Special features – $16,864
Roof in Grigio Silverstone
PEXS in Grey
Red stitching all over interior except on dashboard
Middle stripe on racing seats in red leather
Red seat belts
Key options not on vehicle:
12/ 18/ 17mpg
Horsepower: 562 hp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
Transmission: Dual-clutch, 7-speed F1
Curb weight: 3042 lb
20-inch forged wheels w/diamond finish
235/35R20 front, 295/35R20 rear tires